Mayor Smith to veto 6% utility tax cut by city council
by Luke Putvin | Lynnwood Times Staff
- May 30, 2:50 p.m.: Added links to Open Public Meetings Act, COVID-19 Proclamations related to the Open Public Meetings Act, and timeline of ordinance.
- May 30, 1:10 p.m.: Updated to reflect that no response to questions to the may regarding misconduct by the council have been received.
As reported by Erin Freeman in this article, the Lynnwood City Council passed an ordinance at its May 26 virtual Business Meeting to eliminate the 6% utility tax on water distribution in sewage utilities. This was done as a way to provide financial relief for residents at a time when many are struggling and/or unemployed.
As Finance Director Sonja Springer said at the meeting, the elimination of this tax would impact the general fund by about $1.4 million per year.
The ordinance passed 4-3 with Council President Christine Frizzell, Council Vice President Shannon Sessions and Councilmember Ruth Ross voting no and council members Jim Smith, George Hurst, Ian Cotton and Julieta Altamirano-Crosby voting yes.
In the published agenda for the upcoming June 1 city council work session, there is a letter from Mayor Nicola Smith to the council saying that she will veto the ordinance that eliminated the 6% tax.
“The City Council, City staff, and I all support the Lynnwood community during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said in the letter. “Repeal of the City’s 6% utility tax on the City’s utilities was introduced as a way to offer financial relief to the community during this pandemic.
“Lacking any strategy to offset the serious impacts to the City’s finances during 2020, the City Council chose to delay the effective date of the Ordinance to January 1, 2021, which is outside of the COVID-19 emergency response timeframe. Ordinance 3358 permanently repeals the utility tax on City utilities. It is inaccurate to portray this anti-tax measure as COVID-19 relief.”
The letter goes on to give background about the ordinance alleging it was introduced to the council by email one hour before the May 18, 2020 meeting and then “forwarded” to the May 26, 2020 meeting when it was discussed and approved by the city council.
According to the City’s website, posted meeting agendas and online YouTube council meeting videos, the timeline of events is as follows:
- May 11, 2020 Regular Business Meeting: Councilman Jim Smith introduced a motion to repeal the 6% Utility Tax on water and sewer during New Business (Video timestamp of 1hr. 43 min.).
- May 18, 2020 Work Session: The motion was on the agenda and discussed by the council (Agenda item G)
- May 26, 2020 Regular Business Meeting the ordinance was listed on the agenda, further discussed, and approved 4-3 by the council (Agenda Item 90.3D)
The letter further alleges, “The adoption of Ordinance 3358 is inconsistent with the State Attorney General’s Guidance on the COVID-19 Emergency Open Public Meeting Act” (Proclamation 20-28).
On May 4, 2020, Washington’s legislative leadership acted on Governor Inslee’s request to extend the operation of Proclamation 20-28.1 which was superseded by Proclamation 20-28.2, pertaining to the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), through at least May 31, 2020.
The proclamation eased normal rules providing that the public must be allowed to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency… through telephonic access, at a minimum, with optional electronic, internet, or other means of remote access.
The proclamation further states that agencies are prohibited from taking “action” as defined in RCW 42.30.020 unless the matters are “necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency,” until the Governor restores the regular operation of the OPMA.
According to RCW 42.30.020, “action” is defined as “the transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions.
RCW 42.30.020 defines “final action” as a “collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.”
According to the mayor’s letter, public agencies are to limit its business to “matters related to COVID-19” or to business that is “routine and necessary.”
The letter also alleges that the ordinance “violates the spirit of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act as the Council’s action did not include an open and transparent public process.”
The Lynnwood Times reached out to the mayor and city councilmembers to clarify the allegations in the letter. As of May 30, the Lynnwood Times has not received a response.
Mayor Smith will present the veto in an official capacity at the June 1 City Council work session. You can watch the work session, which will be held electronically via Zoom, at www.LynnwoodWA.gov/Live.